Tag Archives: shells

Playing with Cyanotype

Early this year I decided on play for my one little word.  And I have been making time for play on a pretty regular basis.  A lot of my play is related to photography and making time to take photos has me seeking out opportunities to explore that I might not have done otherwise.  I’ve explored places in my community that I have never been before…and I am definitely spending lots of time outdoors, especially on the weekend, rather than doing housework or even reading!

For Mother’s Day this year a manilla envelope arrived in the mail from my son and daughter-in-law.  As I opened it I found a typewritten note and a smaller manilla envelope.  I love the note, knowing that it was typed on a typewriter that my son found left next to the dumpster near his home…and that he typed it.  The note explained that I would find specially treated cyanotype paper that he had prepared for me.  It gave me step by step instructions for using the paper…and included a few “negatives” that I could try if I wanted.

I played around a bit…and then got busy so it has stayed in the envelope until last weekend.  I started thinking about that cyanotype paper and what I wanted to play around with.  As I headed out for my beach walk on Saturday, I purposely looked for shell pieces that would work with this positive/negative kind of exposure (a rudimentary kind of photography).  As we walked I noticed so many different kinds of shells and rocks…and sea glass!  I seldom find sea glass on our beaches, but for some reason pieces of sea glass kept presenting themselves.  We also found quite a few shell structures with holes and openings.

beach finds

When I got home, I pulled out the paper treated with the cyanotype chemicals and laid the shells out.  I took them out for about five minutes of sun exposure, brought the paper back in to rinse to stop the exposure…and here is the resulting cyanotype shell study.

shell cyanotype

I love the dimension of this print.  The way the shadows create an almost three dimensional effect.

This attempt excited me, so I gathered some plant pieces and created an arrangement on another piece of treated paper.

This created an interesting result, but I found that the lightweight plants blow when I put them outside…there were pieces of lavender on the lower left…and they left a faint impression when they blew away.

Then I grabbed a leaf branch from a tree in my backyard and created an arrangement with the beach glass as the grounding.

I like the way the beach glass produced an interesting effect when placed in the sun.  I tried another one today…and won’t subject you to the results.  Playing around with this printing technique is tricky.  Objects that are too dense or too thick create big light splotches that are less interesting and pleasing than those that have opacity or cast interesting shadows that create dimension.

I have only a few pieces of treated paper left…but my son tells me it is easy and relatively cheap to create my own.  I’ve had fun playing with this technique and created some interesting pieces. I think the shell study is my current favorite…although I do like this early piece I did with some dandelions and other weeds from the yard.

dandelion cyanotype

I like that I have been playing enough that others are giving me encouragement and opportunity to play more.  And I know that taking time to play is good for me, good for my family, and good for my students.  I’ve noticed that lots of my play is about making…making photos, circuits, art, movies.  And I’m looking forward to some more play and making when the CLMOOC begins again on Friday.  So maybe this post is a preview of another summer of making…and playing with others through social media and connected learning.  Will you join us and do some of your own connecting, making and playing?

A Walk on the Beach

Today I spent time doing one of my favorite things in the world.  I took an extended walk on the beach at low tide.  I’m lucky that I live close enough to the beach that I can go without making it an all day outing, but I do live far enough away to have to deal with the lack of parking that is the hallmark of summer in a beach community.  And I love my beach walks…today was one of those beautiful summer days just perfect for a walk.

I love these walks!  At the beginning of my walk I do a lot of people watching as I navigate the families and tourists enjoying the sand and the ocean.  There are pails and shovels, boogie boards and water wings, sunscreen and snacks.  Frisbees sail overhead, paddle balls bounce and roll, footballs splash into the water, and there’s always someone trying to fly a kite above it all.  Babies squeal, teenagers preen, and surfers tend to ignore it all as they paddle out beyond all the ruckus of summer beach.

As I continue down the beach, the crowd thins and the constant and soothing sound of the surf washes over me.  The sun warms my face and shoulders, the briny breeze tickles my hair, and the cool surf plays hide and seek with my toes.  I came across this abandoned sand castle today.  Carefully crafted, yet temporary.


As I pass the fishermen (or in today’s case a fisherboy) I start to see more shells and stop to photograph a couple that are particularly beautiful…and have me thinking mathematically as I consider symmetry (my focus for #sdawpphotovoices this week) and Fibonacci spirals.


As the beach turns a corner I notice a seagull holding a plastic bag in his mouth.  This makes me think about how clean the beach has been on my walks this summer, and I approach the seagull with my camera both to take a photo and to get it to drop the bag so I can throw it away.  As I come closer, the seagull hops away, staying well beyond where I seem to be a threat.  I never could get it to drop the bag…


On my way back up the beach I noticed the paddle boarders off the point we call Swamis. They each stand on a big longboard with a paddle for navigation.  Today there was a group of four out there.  From the shore it almost looks like they are just standing on top of the water!  The best of them are able to catch an occasional wave, although mostly they seem to just paddle around beyond the break where the waves start to form.  I also caught a different seagull resting on a rock, posing perfectly for me to capture with my camera lens.


There is nothing like a relaxing walk on the beach on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  This has been a busy summer for me without much time for vacation.  I’m lucky to live where a two-hour staycation is the perfect way to refresh, relax, and reflect.